A Shifter’s Christmas

Some have asked me to write a short about Elsu from my Fugue Macabre trilogy books.  So here is:

                                                                 A Shifter’s Christmas

A great pall hung over the Moran clan as Christmas loomed just days away.  Pack leader, Elsu Moran knew he had to do something to bring some semblance of cheer to the remaining shapeshifters under his protection. Their numbers had grown small—a mere two hundred– since Hurricane Katrina wiped out the village.  There were few homes dotting the swamps and marshes along the Gulf of Mexico that hadn’t been destroyed by the destructive storm.  Seven elders had drowned and then a week later his father had been murdered.  Then the death of another child in its first shifting was too much grief for his mourning clan.

Elsu’s senses sharpened when he heard shouts from the surrounding woodlands.  Lexie, one of the camp orphans shifted before him, stammering over her words and flailing her arms wildly. 

            He brushed away the girl’s blonde hair, giving him clear view to her blue, fright-filled eyes.  “Calm down, Lexie.  Take a deep breath and start over.  Who’s coming?”

            “I don’t know, but there’s a lot of them.  Shifters.”  She drew a deep breath, releasing it with a gush.  “I’ve never seen them before.  Smell like cats.”

            He ran his gaze along the edge of the village, but saw nor heard anything.  “Okay, sound the alarm. Then go to Aetheria’s tree house, until I sound the all clear.”

            She stomped her foot and wailed, “No! I can fight.  I’m strong.  I’m not a kid anymore.”

            Elsu smiled.  So young but so brave.  “No, but you have jobs to do.  Warn the others then keep Aetheria safe. It’s utmost.” Elsu sent her on her mission with a light shove.  He strode to the center of the common ground surrounded by the elders’ homes as the first of the cats broke through the tree line. 

            “You have breached Clan Moran. I am pack leader, Elsu Luckman. State your business.”  He gave no more than a casual glance at the rag-tag group.  The men stood front and forward, a show of strength.  Next the women were gathered shielding a sprinkling of children, eyes wide with fear, faces and clothing dirty and worn. 

            The largest man spoke.  “I am Hylton Sterling, former pack leader of the Dallas Panthers.  An outside pack moved into our territory and forced us out of our homes.  We are four hundred in number.  We claim this land as ours.  You have two days to vacate or die.”

            Elsu laughed. Loud and boisterous, it echoed though the village like a taunting jibe. “You would do the same to us? This land has belonged to the Luckman family for centuries.  It is legally ours.  Deed in hand.  Even if you destroy us all, the land would still not be yours.  Kill me and the land will pass down to my sister.  To get to her you’ll have to head to New York.”

            Hylton and his clan surged forward, but were stopped by a solid wall of near naked Spirit Warriors with flaming swords that sprang up in their way.  Hylton’s gaze rose toward the tree house sitting atop the massive oak centering the village.  Standing at the edge of a railed walkway stood an old woman with white hair hanging to her ankles.  “They have a witch?” He hissed.  His people cowered, heads bowed in fear. 

            “May I introduce Aetheria.  A mystic, not a witch,” Elsu said, turning his back on Hylton. 

            Aetheria nodded.  “Come to me, Hylton Sterling.”  She clapped her hands, and every porch came alive with shifters.  “The women and children are hungry.  Bring our guest food.”

            Hylton obeyed without argument leaving his pack watching nervously as the village buzzed with activity. Within minutes cloth-covered tables lined the common grounds and were laid with platters of meat in their centers.

Elsu approached one of the children.  “Are you hungry?” They hid her face in her mother’s skirts.  “The food is for you.”  He remembered all the children lost from his clan and the ways to their hearts.  “We have root beer.”

            A little girl withdrew her face from her mother’s skirt and Elsu was met with a clear, blue-eyed stare. “You do?”

            Elsu called out, “Root beer for the children.”  Again the activity of his people pleased him.  “Bottles were placed on the table alongside coffee pots on trivets and pitchers of tea already forming condensation on their outsides.  One by one, the villagers cut away minute slices of meat, eating and walking away.  When the last had tasted the meats, they did the same to the coffee and tea.

            “As you can see, we do not poison you.”  Elsu retreated to the base of the massive oak waiting for the summons he knew would come.

Moments later, Hylton made his way down the ladder and to the table.  “You may eat,” he announced.

“Elsu, come,” Aetheria called.

The group divided itself to fill the chairs.  Mothers filled plates for their children before serving themselves.  The men, ever watchful, ate, then moved to let the next in line satisfy their hunger. 

Aetheria stood on her landing like a queen addressing her realm.  “You may stay for a few nights. You will join us on the morrow’s full moon hunt. But,” she ran a hard gaze over them, “I will not tolerate trouble makers.”

                                                ***

Elsu led Hylton to a table set up for the two of them.  “We will not relinquish our lands to you.”

Hylton nodded.  “I know, and I am ashamed I even tried.”

Elsu shook his head.  “We will speak of it no more.”

“I am grateful.”

“An area in the lower Ninth Ward between the Mississippi River and Industrial Canal was all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Two years later only a few hardy soles have ventured back to rebuild their lives and homes.  But the area might suit your needs.  Ten or so can be repaired quickly, giving you immediate roofs over your heads.  Another seven can be rebuilt, plus there are many vacant lots.”

Hylton nodded as if considering his words. 

“However, there is another option, one I think you’ll like better,” Elsu continued.  “There is a strip of land along Bayou Bienvenue.  Again, the area was ravaged by Katrina, but can be rebuilt.  I will take you in the morning, to make your choice.”

Hylton stood.  “This Bayou, it is as good a land as you have?”

“I believe it to be so,” Elsu answered.

“May we see that area first?”

The next morning Elsu and Hylton left before the sun crested.  Two hours later Elsu pulled the car into a grove of scrub pines.  “We’ll have to walk the rest of the way.”  They climbed over fallen trees, and through thickets until breaking through to a clearing.  Hylton’s sharp intake of breath was all Elsu needed to know that the Sterling Clan had found their new territory.

“Bayou Bienvenue will do.  There are woods to run, and game to eat.  Waters to fish for food and sale.” Hylton stood back and offered a slight bow.   

“This property is privately owned,” Elsu announced.  “But is yours for the price of peace.  We will be as one clan, joined to protect each other.  No one will ever be able to take your territory again.”

“We are in your debt.”

Elsu waved away his comment.  “Day after tomorrow is Christmas.  The women have made gifts for the children and there will be a true Christmas feast.  Tonight is the full moon.  You may use your land to hunt.  My people will help you build homes.  This is our Christmas gift to your clan.”

Hylton took Elsu’s hand in his.  “And my promise is mine to you.  We will be one in war and in peace.”

Christmas day arrived sunny and warm.  The tables once again were filled with offerings and spirits were high.  The joy of happiness shown in every face.  Forgotten, if only for one day, were the sadness of death and the weariness of Katrina.  Peace returned, if only momentary. 

Elsu had found the gift he longed to give his people.  The sounds of children at play and the warmth of peace.

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